We were hoping to hear President Obama in his State of the Union address underline his commitment to taking on our greatest short- and long-term challenges: persistent high unemployment and rapidly growing inequality.
Broadly, we were pleased with what we heard when the President endorsed increased investments in infrastructure and universal pre-kindergarten education. We will have to wait for the specifics of the President's plans on both fronts, as he did promise to make these investments without increasing the federal deficit. Investments in infrastructure and early childhood education will yield substantial long-term economic benefits, but if made without raising the deficit, they are unlikely to boost job growth in the short term.
On inequality, the President endorsed raising the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $9.00 an hour by 2015 and indexing it to inflation. This is good news, but here again the details of the President's plans remain to be filled in (Josh Eidelson has more here).
On another positive note, the President called on Congress to take steps to address the gender pay gap by passing The Paycheck Fairness Act. You can read more about the Act here (PDF).
Finally, on a disappointing note, the President did not propose any new legislative efforts to make it easier for workers to join a union or get a first contract once they do join a union — both of which would make significant strides in reducing inequality.